by Eno Sarris //
In a recent fantasy baseball industry draft put on by FOXSports.com, your faithful Bloomberg Sports correspondent had the third pick. Going into it, I figured I would be fine with either of the great shortstops at the top of the draft – a five-category offensive player at the most difficult position is a nice way to start your team. True to my preparation, Troy Tulowitzki went second and I quickly clicked Hanley Ramirez with a smile. What would I have done if I had been faced with the second pick, though?
Last year, the contributions in the fantasy categories may have barely favored the Floridian. Tulo put up a .315 average with 27 home runs, 11 stolen bases, 89 runs and 95 RBI. Hanley hit .300 with 21 home runs, 32 stolen bases, 92 runs and 76 RBI. While the batting average statistic looks like a notch in Tulowitzki’s belt, Ramirez actually accrued 15 more hits than the Rockies shortstop. At issue was the fact that Tulowitzki was hurt for a month and only came to the plate 529 times, vs. Ramirez’s 619. Give Ramirez a tiny nudge for crossing the 600 PA threshold for the fifth time in as many years, and he gets the overall nod, too.
Obviously, it’s close. Some of the difference will come from how you value stolen bases. Even coming off his peak (51 stolen bases in 2006-2007), Ramirez has averaged more than 30 per season for three seasons. While it’s tempting to pencil Tulowitzki in for 15 stolen bases or more next season, it’s worth noticing that his success rate is not impressive (62.6%). That means that he’s below the break-even point (you want to be successful at least two-thirds of the time, value-wise) and may get the green light less often. Two hand injuries in the last three years might also discourage his coaches from sending him.
So we turn to next year and the projections. Bill James has Tulowitzki down for a .296 batting average, 27 home runs, 11 stolen bases, 96 runs and 93 RBI in a virtual carbon-copy of his 2010 effort (though in 597 plate appearances). He has Ramirez bouncing back from a three-year decline in isolated slugging percentage, as he thinks the Florida shortstop will put up a .312 batting average, 25 home runs, 33 stolen bases, 108 runs, and 80 RBI (in 658 plate appearances). If these projections hold, Ramirez is an easy pick.
The last caveat is that the 26-year-old Tulowitzki is obviously on his way up, while Hanley Ramirez has shown a decline in some key statistics. After putting up .230 and .239 ISOs in 2007 and 2008, he has dropped down to .201 and .175 respectively the last two years. Some of it may be from some normal fluctuation in his flyball percentage – though he hit a career-low 32.7% of his contact in the air last year, that number was 41.5% the year before and 36.7% in 2008. It looks like his speed is a little more dependable than his power because of this oscillation. It’s also a little premature to assume the 27-year-old Ramirez is in a decline phase.
These two excellent shortstops will be leaving your draft boards early in the first round, and for good reason. A comparison seems to suggest that it’s a matter of taste: If you’d rather take a nudge in power and hope your shortstop continues to make an impact in the speed categories, Tulowitzki is your man. If you’d rather make sure to get close to 30 steals, and risk that the power is only OK rather than elite, then Ramirez is your man. You’ll probably be happy either way.